Republican legislators in Pennsylvania are holding funds for needy children hostage in service to an anti-transgender agenda. It’s patently cruel and unnecessary, and it will likely succeed.
It’s been more than three weeks since the congressional leaders were both cold-hearted and paralyzed by inaction enough to let the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) lapse, thanks to lack of funding. That lapse didn’t mean all states automatically ran out of money—it depended on how much money states had in reserve. Pennsylvania is one of 11 states that runs out of CHIP money by the end of the year.
Around 175,000 children in Pennsylvania receive vital coverage under CHIP. The state house originally voted in June to extend CHIP funding to the end of this year. After the federal funding lapsed, the house met again to vote to extend CHIP to December 2019. That extension should be entirely uncontroversial. CHIP funds necessary services for kids from low-income families and pregnant people, including check-ups, immunizations, hospital care, and emergency services. If children don’t receive health services early, they increase their chances of significant health problems, which can place greater financial pressure on a state.
It shouldn’t be a partisan or contentious issue to fund health care for children, and it wasn’t in Pennsylvania until conservative lawmakers made it so by including malicious anti-transgender language in an amendment. When the CHIP reauthorization bill reached the Pennsylvania Senate, state Sen. Don White (R-District 41) introduced an anti-trans amendment. He’s so pleased with it that he’s highlighted it on his website. The amendment is deeply ill-informed as to trans health issues for children:
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The benefit package for eligible children may not include reimbursement for gender or sex reassignment surgery or gender or sex transition services, including, but not limited to, physician’s services, inpatient and outpatient hospital services, prescribed drugs or counseling services related to such surgery or services.
Were White not so caught up in being transphobic, he would likely know that gender reassignment surgery is not generally recommended for people younger than 18. For the remaining services, such as counseling and hormone therapy, roughly 800 children in Pennsylvania receive trans-related health services, not all of whom, of course, are in CHIP. The amendment’s language is vague and broad enough that it could be read to deny transgender youth non-surgical services, such as hormone therapy. In other words, White is willing to deny health care to 175,000 children to prevent a vanishingly small number of children from getting the crucial trans-related health services they need.
White’s amendment passed in the GOP-controlled state senate banking committee. It then passed the full Pennsylvania Senate by a 37-13 vote and now heads to the house to be finalized. There’s no reason to think the bill won’t pass in the house, both because the chamber is dominated by Republicans and because it will be difficult for lawmakers to vote against reauthorizing CHIP for 175,000 children.
This amendment won’t save any significant amount of CHIP funds. Its sole purpose is to harm transgender youth and prevent them from accessing medical services. It’s more proof that GOP lawmakers will go to any length, and use any legislative vehicle, to impose their outdated and mean-spirited agenda on the public.